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With God Save The City, Bay Area artist Brad Brooks makes a triumphant return with the most direct, soulful record of his life.
Brooks, beloved in the Bay Area as one of its finest vocalists and songwriters, released “Harmony of Passing Light” in 2012, drew comparisons to Elvis Costello, Wilco, Brian Wilson, and Queen, and planned to head right back into the studio to record an immediate, even more ambitious follow-up.
Instead, he found himself fighting for his life.
Just as the songs for God Save The City started to take shape five years ago, Brooks headed to the dentist for a cleaning. The dentist noticed a lump in Brooks’ throat, sent him to another doctor, and Brooks discovered that he had throat cancer; treatment meant a surgery that might rob him of his voice altogether. Brooks’ musical family in the Bay Area held its collective breath.
Joyfully, Brooks made a full recovery, and simultaneously mined the scariest moment in his life for the most honest and fiery record of his career. While eight years is a long time to wait for another album, one listen to God Save The City reveals it was worth it– the music and its message’s potency are undeniable.
While Brooks’ earlier albums begin with a more gentle invitation to the listener, unraveling and revealing themselves slowly in mini-symphonies, God Save The City explodes with Brooks screaming “Come on!!!” and the record never loses that urgency. From the Hall and Oates slow burn of “Feel The Might” to the classic Hi Records groove of “Why Do You Hurt” and “The Chance,” this is Brooks’ soul album, one he has earned the right to make. Recorded with his longtime, devoted, and white-hot live band, the record is full of first and second takes with minimal overdubs. Rather than the multi-layered acrobatics of his past work, Brooks sings here like a man with a second chance, raw and vulnerable.
Not surprisingly, Brooks’ journey and the country’s wild descent into partisan rancor over the last five years show up all over God Save The City. Brooks tackles wealth displacement in the title track (“Can’t afford the livin where my livin is done”), his own mortality in “Sacred Was I” (“Scared was I to face / Scared was I to try”), recalls a hilarious encounter with “Lee Marvin’s Uzi,” and on perhaps the album’s standout track “Strange Fruit Numb,” what started as a band jam evolves into a civil rights anthem for the 21st century in the grand tradition of other Bay Area politically musical visionary’s like Sly Stone and Boots Riley.
Brooks is a part of a rare, vanishing breed in American life: the lifelong artist. While more and more performers dip in and out of the pool, content with the fleeting fame that modern social media provides, Brooks is and has always been in it for the long haul, fronting bands and collaborating with heavyweight friends since the late 80s in Tuscon, AZ. Now, armed with health, purpose, a sense of urgency, and the most immediate music of his career, he is ready to burn down any stage he can find.
Help Brooks save your own city by giving this wonderful record a spin.